The Boxer Rebellion – Promises

written by: May 12, 2013
Album-Art-for-Promises-by-The-Boxer-Rebellion Release Date: May 14, 2013


London-based band, The Boxer Rebellion, has been playing music together for over 10 years, and its newest release, Promises, is a testament to its musical maturity.

Nathan Nicholson leads The Boxer Rebellion on vocals, guitar, and keys. He’s joined by Todd Howe on lead guitar, Adam Harrison on bass, and Piers Hewitt on the drums. Promises is the group’s fourth release, and exhibits a sound both confident in voice and complacent in formula.

The opener, “Diamonds,” feels strangely defeated for the beginning of an album. The beat is heavy on the snare and the synth strikes long, drawn out chords, while vocals serve as the centerpiece. Nicholson sings, “I’m no good next to diamonds/when I’m too close and start to fade/are you angry with me now/angry because I’m to blame?”

Despite its brooding vocals and hazy melodies, the music manages to be danceable, which is its only selling point. “Diamonds,” engaging though it may be, belongs deeper within the album.

It doesn’t accomplish its purpose as an opener, which is to hook the audience, rather than lull them into premature contemplation.

Meanwhile, the center of Promises is a pleasant static. There’s dance drumming and a searing synth line heard on “Always,” and a lush violin section supporting the pleading lyrics of “Low.” Yet these tracks, when placed next to one another, are difficult to distinguish. That is, the music ultimately refuses to change. These tracks recycle sounds heard early in the album and place them within a predictable structure. In this way, the album continues to lose its momentum, its creative spark, and its edge.

Track nine, “You Belong to Me,” convinces listeners they’re in for a long, teary-eyed piano ballad, then shifts direction with a jazzy, disoriented drum beat and a synth drone buzzing beneath the music. The lyrics, while powerful, blend with the surrounding atmosphere, acting more as an instrument than a primary focus. The refrain returns the track to its origins as Nicholson quietly sings, “You belong to me” over light piano chords. This track, with its highly personal and enigmatic nature, is one of Promises‘ stronger tracks.

The closer and title track aims to engage listeners with smooth, interlocking guitar melodies and anxious drumming. The chorus is a release of pent up emotion, headed by Nicholson singing, “We could make promises!” in a dramatic falsetto.

The strongest feature of “Promises” is its ability to heighten anticipation, then deliver an awe-inspired, soul-cleansing resolution—an appropriate ending to an album lost in dashed hopes and bitter regrets.

Promises is loud when it needs to be and melancholy in between. At its best, the music bathes listeners in expansive textures and triumphant vocals. At its worst, it grows boring and predictable.

Admittedly, this is a difficult album to sit through. The recording style is appropriate for what the band is looking to accomplish, but ultimately cannot capture the entirety of its emotional breadth. In other words, it’s music better heard live than through headphones.

This is not a critique on The Boxer Rebellion, and, in fact, speaks highly of their potential to wow an audience. However, when it comes to owning, loving, and listening to Promises over and over again, the album simply falls short.

The Boxer Rebellion – Promises tracklist:

  1. “Diamonds”
  2. “Fragile”
  3. “Always”
  4. “Take Me Back”
  5. “Low”
  6. “Keep Moving”
  7. “New York”
  8. “Safe House”
  9. “You Belong to Me”
  10. “Dream”
  11. “Promises”